On voter fraud: A federal indictment; reward bill gets House sub OK

A federal indictment accuses an alleged Monroe County marijuana dealer and a Loudon County man of paying 13 people for their votes in the 2014 U.S. Senate primary election. Meanwhile, a House subcommittee Tuesday approved a bill that would provide a $5,000 reward to persons who provides information leading to a conviction for voter fraud.

From the News Sentinel:

Betty Jane Best and Brian Keith “Wormy” Hodge were arraigned Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley Jr. in U.S. District Court on a 14-count indictment charging the duo with conspiracy to buy votes and 13 counts of actually paying for the votes in the August 2014 U.S. Senate primary in Monroe County.

Best, who is also known as Betty Hawkins, is already under indictment in Monroe County on charges she sold marijuana. Her relationship to Hodge, who listed an address in Loudon County in court records, is unknown.

…According to the indictment, Best and Hodge conspired “with others known and unknown” to the grand jury – standard language in a conspiracy case – to buy votes in the primary that would leave U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander as the Republican candidate and veteran attorney Gordon Ball as the Democratic candidate in the November general election. Alexander bested Ball (in the general election).

The indictment does not indicate which candidate or candidates benefited from the vote buying or the price paid. It does list the 13 individuals who allegedly received the money.

The voter fraud reward bill (HB686), sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, was approved on voice vote Tuesday in the House Local Government Subcommittee. The measure raises the fine for those convicted of voter fraud by $5,000 while providing a reward of the same amount to persons providing information leading to a conviction.

From an earlier story on the bill by the USA Today Network folk:

Van Huss said reports of 42 possible voter fraud cases last year inspired the legislation. He said the bill would not cost the state any money because the incentives would be offset by fines.

“If we can catch the criminals for free, sounds like a good deal to me,” Van Huss said.

…The Secretary of State’s Office oversees elections in Tennessee and provides a hotline to report any suspected voter fraud. As (state elections) coordinator, (Mark) Goins welcomes any tool to help combat potential voter fraud, but notes that there might be a rise in false reports thanks to the $5,000 incentive.

“It would be beneficial, but the legislature has to balance if this increases false reports and if we want to expand resources on investigations,” Goins said.

Goins said many reports of fraud go directly to local election offices, and local prosecutors handle these cases.

But Van Huss is confident his bill will not lead to any false reports, because the only way to earn the $5,000 is by a conviction, not a report.

“If a judge and jury decide if someone is guilty, that’s the way it’s worked since the founding of our country, so I’m not worried,” Van Huss said

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